by Aaron Resnick, Playmaker Mobile intern
Every year it seems like a few receivers come out of nowhere and put up huge numbers. Last year both Sidney Rice and Miles Austin had career years and became their team’s number one receiver. Other receivers such as Mike Sims-Walker also emerged but didn’t put up Pro Bowl type numbers. As the league is starting to rely more each season on the passing game, depth at the receiver position is needed and many players should put up gaudy numbers. Here are some wide receivers that should break out this coming year. Some of the guys started to come into their own last season while others are flying under the radar.
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers: Wallace had a great rookie season for the Steelers averaging almost 20 yards a catch to go with six touchdowns. This includes a game winner against the Packers that was similar to the Santonio Holmes catch against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl the year prior. Coincidentally, Wallace will be replacing Holmes who was traded to the Jets this offseason. It is unlikely that Wallace will match his yards per reception total, but he will get more targets and is still an excellent deep threat. An 1100 yard season to go along with eight touchdowns isn’t out of reach.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers: Even though Crabtree missed five games due to the fact that Darrius Heyward-Bey was a reach, he had a very productive rookie season. In the 11 games he did play, Crabtree caught 48 passes for 625 yards and two touchdowns. Translate that into a full season and you have over 900 yards and probably an extra touchdown or two. That would be a very impressive rookie campaign.
Now Crabtree has an extra offseason with the playbook under his belt and while he isn’t the biggest deep threat, he should be very effective complimenting the 49ers other weapons in Frank Gore and Vernon Davis. It wouldn’t be surprising if Crabtree had at least 70 catches this season to go along with his first 1000 yard season.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants: Going into last year the receiver position was the Giants biggest question. Now, it is one of their biggest strengths. Steve Smith made the Pro Bowl last year and is an excellent possession receiver. Most importantly, the Giants saw the emergence of Nicks. Even though he only started in six games, Nicks managed to record very solid numbers with 790 yards and six touchdowns while averaging almost 17 yards a catch. Nicks is the complete package at wide receiver and while this will most likely be his breakout year, it should only be the start of what’s to come.
Johnny Knox, Chicago Bears: Remember a few years back when Mike Martz was with the Lions and Shaun McDonald put up almost 1000 yards along with six touchdowns? That will be Knox in Martz’s offense with the Bears this upcoming season. He was a Pro Bowl return man last year with top end speed which doesn’t reflect the 11.7 yards a catch he averaged last year. Don’t be surprised if Knox turns into one of the league’s premier deep threats this season.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles: While DeSean Jackson gets most of the attention with his big play capability, it is possible that Maclin is the better all around receiver. Like Jackson, Maclin has elite speed but he is also bigger and is more likely to go over the middle to grab a tough ball and less likely to spike it before entering the end zone. He had a respectable rookie season recording 773 yards and four touchdowns and was also one of the only Eagles who bothered to show up against the Cowboys in the playoffs. In that game, Maclin had seven catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles are entering a youth movement this season as they have decided to hand the keys to the offense to Kevin Kolb. Maclin has plenty of help around him in the passing game in LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, Jackson and the sure handed Jason Avant. It wouldn’t be surprising if Maclin has over 1000 yards this season and should be the beginning of a Kolb to Maclin connection for years to come.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs: Bowe showed lots of promise his first two years, but in year three which is viewed as a year where most receivers put it together, Bowe had his worst year as a pro. He was in Todd Haley’s doghouse for much of the year, was plagued by drops and also was suspended four games for violating the substance abuse policy.
Now entering his fourth season, Bowe should finally put it all together. This offseason he was training with Larry Fitzgerald at his yearly camp where he was given pointers by Jerry Rice and Cris Carter. He will also have had an extra offseason to gain chemistry with Matt Cassel and play with an improved supporting cast. Alongside the explosive Jamaal Charles in the backfield, the Chiefs also acquired another 1000 yard rusher in Thomas Jones. The team will also have Chris Chambers for the full year who in the nine games he played with the team recorded over 600 yards and four touchdowns. Dexter McCluster was also brought in through the draft and with his explosiveness will play all over the field and should be very effective in the slot. Considering Bowe will only be turning 26 this season, this could be the beginning of great things for him as he puts all of his talent to use.
Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans: Coming out of Lane in the 2007 draft, Jones was very raw and showed playmaking ability as a return man but started putting it together last year as a receiver. Last year he averaged over 16 yards a catch and also had six touchdowns. It is very possible that the Texans could choose to start Jones opposite Andre Johnson over Kevin Walter. At this point, Jones is the younger player, gives them more big play capability and has more upside. Regardless, the Texans rely heavily on the pass as proven by Matt Schaub leading the league in passing yards so Jones will get his fair share of opportunities regardless of where he lines up.
Chaz Schilens Raiders: At 6’4 225 pounds with 4.4 speed, Schilens has the makeup the Raiders look for in a receiver. Going into last year he was viewed as a sleeper but managed to play in only eight games. He didn’t put up very impressive numbers with 365 yards and two touchdowns but should build on last year’s totals. Now with Jason Campbell at quarterback, defenses will have to view the Raiders as a threat to throw the ball and with the emergence of Louis Murphy as a rookie last year, Schilens could have a big impact. An 800 yard season to go with six touchdowns would be a big boost to the Raiders offense.
Devin Thomas, Washington Redskins: In the 2008 draft, the Redskins drafted Thomas and Malcolm Kelly who were supposed to make an immediate impact on the teams receiving corps. Through two seasons, the players have combined for 68 catches and three touchdowns. Tight end Fred Davis who they drafted in 2008 as well, doubled their touchdown total last year alone.
With the acquisition of Donovan McNabb this offseason, the Redskins need one of the young receivers to step up and it seems Thomas is more up to the challenge. Coming out of the draft he was considered by many to be the top receiver but was very raw putting up only one big year at Michigan State. Last year he showed some flashes of his potential having his best game against the Saints where he had 100 yards and two touchdowns. While Thomas most likely won’t play like a number one receiver right away, he has enough weapons around him in Chris Cooley, Davis and Santana Moss to have a 50 catch season.
Early Doucet, Arizona Cardinals: With the departure of Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals are going to rely on Doucet to fill the void that he leaves. Like Boldin, he is a physical receiver who is willing to fight for the tough yards. He showed what he was capable of this past postseason as he recorded 77 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals win over the Packers. With weapons such as Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells and Steve Breaston around him, Doucet should have the ability to be very productive as a possession receiver and catch around 60 passes.